Tag Archives: karma yoga

Sangha Support

What an awesome Saturday.

Prospect Park, Brooklyn.  On June 1st, a group of New York karma yogis came together for 108 for Peace, to raise awareness about family violence, and to raise funds for STEPS, a local nonprofit working on the front lines in counseling and prevention.

On the path of Karma Yoga, in order to re-calibrate the cycles of samsara, yogis do good work – the same goes for re-calibrating the cycles of violence.   But how to stop a cycle that seems so much bigger than ourselves, individually?  If we can begin to think in peace, speak in peace and act in peace, we transforms ourselves.  The ripple effect of this personal evolution can transform whole communities, local and global.

Offering the 108 sun salutations has a unique effect on everyone.  For some it felt like a form of cleansing; the repetitive movements acting as a form of catharsis, with memories and emotions surfacing in unexpected ways.  Other participants noted the meditative quality of the offering, an opportunity to hone focus and patience.

I’m so grateful for my friends and fellow yogis on the path who showed up early, smiley, and open to the experience, for the wonderful gourd sound system provided, for the helping hands (and cameras!), for the hugs, for shared yummies afterward, and for meeting a few new sisters in solidarity who are looking to launch their own 108 ceremonies in future.

That’s what sangha is all about.

The word as I know it originally referred to a community of people (often monks) dedicated to the Buddhist path; it’s come to be used in modern yogi culture as a more general term for community.  And with a strong community, anything is possible.

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Sharing Yoga as a Tool of Self-Empowerment

Sharing yoga in a public sphere, it’s always a challenge to keep things fresh, accessible, and inspirational for life off the mat.  Some students come in looking for a good stretch.  Others are open to epiphany.  And there’s a lot of grey area in between!

Today I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore the infinite ways we can live our yoga – as healing, as transformation, as empowerment, as love, as bliss absolute.  The interview featured below is with one of the presenters at Omega’s Yoga Service Conference in June – I’ll be attending as a new Council Member and scholarship recipient.  The anticipation builds … 🙂

A Call to Service: Sharing Yoga as a Tool of Self-Empowerment

Posted: 05/13/2013 12:38 pm, The Huffington Post


This interview is part of a series devoted to interviews with several health, yoga, and spiritual educators who are presenting at the 2nd Annual Yoga Service Conference, hosted by the Omega Institute and the Yoga Service Council June 7-9, 2013. Anyone interested in working to create strong, engaged, and resilient communities is welcome at the conference. Jasmine Chehrazi is the founder of the Yoga District collective of yoga studios, and founder of Yoga Activist, a nonprofit outreach organization based in Washington, D.C., dedicated to improving accessibility and trauma sensitivity in yoga and mindfulness instruction. She has taught students of diverse backgrounds (from homeless shelter residents to White House staff). In her role as a yoga educator, Jasmine serves on the faculty at George Washington University, advising yoga teachers in training. She also directs the yoga teacher training programs at Yoga District. She happens also to be a good friend. How special it is for me to interview her in this space!

Rob: What emotionally motivates you to give back the gift of yoga? What are some standout moments in your teaching?

The emotional connection is partly a heartfelt duty to share the practices that are helpful to me, in case they’re helpful to others. But I don’t feel like I’m giving back — I’m being given to. I’m so fortunate to share yoga with so many people who helped guide me to a deeper sense of self and the world around me, deconstructing every stereotype or assumption of others’ “other-ness.”

The emotional connection for yoga service is the human connection. Sharing yoga is another way of saying “I love you” to total strangers. We’re using our bodies to find that common ground and language of love, and nothing is lost in translation. I hear “I love you back” with every breath I’ve shared with these students. So by the end of class, something is different. We’re no longer strangers. We see that despite any differences, we’re just the same. We’re all just one decision, or just one situation from being one another. Forget glass half full or half empty — we’ve got a glass, and we’re raising it up.

A few “wow” moments I treasure: a cop taking off his gun and holster so he could try a headstand (which he landed on the first try, by the way). I’ve had kids run up to me for hugs after class, and I’ve had kids run from their yoga mats like they’ve seen the boogie monster. I’ve had students yell at me when their medication was off, and I’ve seen them peacefully cry with joy after the final resting pose in class. The first traumatic brain injury student I taught taught me that it wasn’t about what he couldn’t move, but what he could move. The asylum applicants who practiced with me despite facing imminent deportation showed me how to find a home in the self, even when our more external situations afford us no home. During a class with students transitioning from shelters to subsidized housing, I learned to look my students in the eye.

Don’t they say that yoga isn’t about yoga — it’s about everything else?

What changes occur during our asana, pranayama, or meditation practices that help us to get off our mats and “give back” to our communities the benefits we’ve received through the practice of yoga?

As the practice of yoga (which includes the ethical restraints and observances, asana, pranayama, sense withdrawal, concentration, meditation, and self-realization) fosters recognition that we all breathe the same, we experience the fact that we are the same. This experience of one-ness leads us to a deep sense of compassion, motivating us to share with others the practices that work for us.

When I first started doing yoga I couldn’t always contain myself. Sometimes I would cry during class because I had so much emotion bottled up in my body. As I released tension in the body through the practice of yoga, I released it emotionally too. But there wasn’t a particular teacher who made this happen. I made it happen. I did it, using my own flesh, blood, and breath, using asana, pranayama, and meditation as tools. How empowering and liberating is that?! How could I not want to share these self-empowering practices with everyone? I already share these practices with students through the five yoga studios I founded, so sharing through yoga outreach programs of Yoga Activist is just another means of sharing. Whether in a studio class, teacher training, or outreach class, I don’t give my students anything they don’t already have. They have all the power in the universe to let go of their own physical and emotional tension, allowing transformation to unfold. All I’m doing is sharing some down-to-earth (yet totally magical) yoga tools for this process of self-empowerment, self-mastery, self-coping, and self-healing.

How did you begin to serve?

I taught a class to individuals seeking asylum in the U.S. All were survivors of torture and trauma in their previous countries of residence. I didn’t really plan the class. It just sort of happened — sort of a call to duty. I knew I had to continue the classes when I saw how basic yoga practices had such an incredible impact on some of the students. It’s amazing how just a little yoga can do so much. We don’t need fancy sequences or complicated moves, just a loving presence pointing to the present moment, using the body and breath as tools. More of us are capable of this than we might care to admit.

How can you serve without attachment to the outcome?

All suffering stems from attachment, including attachment to desired outcomes of our action. So I refer to the Bhagavad Gita — we do things because they must be done, offering our actions to the universal awareness that connects us all. When we do things selflessly in this way, it’s almost as if we are not acting as individuals at all. It’s as if our actions are just part of a harmonious dance with universal law. On a practical level, why do I make my bed if it just gets messed up the next night? Because I must. Why brush my teeth if they are only going to get dirty again anyway? Because I must. Why live if I am going to die? Because I must. Similarly, why share yoga, even if it might not make any difference to others at all? Because I must. I’m just doing what I see must be done. At first it’s difficult, just as it’s difficult for a child to develop the discipline to brush his/her teeth, make the bed, etc. But after a while, it becomes automatic.

How do you deal with compassion fatigue?

There are many types of self-care. Study of spiritual texts and teachers works for me. Ram Das once told me that you never find peace outside. You find it on the inside. Once you find peace within, you become an instrument of peace for the whole world. With that in mind, and thanks to the powerful meditation, japa, pranayama, and asana practices in the tradition of Sri Dharma Mittra, I’ve developed a deep capacity to bear witness to suffering. I keep in mind that what happens to us will never affect our deepest self, that timeless awareness from which we all draw, and which connects us all. This awareness helps me not get too affected by any of the crazy things I’ve seen in shelters, prisons, schools, and all the other places I’ve shared yoga.

How do you model leadership when working with unserved populations?

I love them. It might remind them how lovable they are, in case they forgot. If they are reminded of how lovable and loved they are, despite all the hard things that happen to them or have been caused by them, they can overcome anger, fear, and hatred. This clears the path for leadership. Love leads us to the place within where we are all equal, powerful, and strong.

What are some of your ideas about or hopes for the future of “service yoga” in America in the next decade?

I spend most of my time training yoga teachers on ways they can make their yoga classes more sensitive to trauma survivors. I feel this needs to be a standard in all yoga teacher trainings. I’m working with Yoga Alliance, the accrediting authority for yoga teacher certification, to advocate for this.

I hope more people realize that they just need to get out there and serve. We also need more integration with medical research communities. Yoga needs to be used as a preventative measure rather than only post-trauma treatment. And, as my friends at the Yoga Service Council say, teachers need to get from inspired to effective. Get on out there and serve, one breath at a time.

Editor: Alice Trembour

Are you a yoga instructor giving back to underserved or un-served populations? Email rschware@gmail.com if you’re interested in being interviewed for this series. Thank you for all you do in the name of service!

The Yoga Service Conference, presented by Omega Institute and the Yoga Service Council, July 7-9, 2013, offers a unique and intimate opportunity to forge relationships, build skills, and draw inspiration from leading yoga and mindfulness teachers who work with tens of thousands of people in underserved communities every day. Learn best practices for working with trauma survivors, incarcerated adults and teens, at-risk children, cancer survivors, the elderly, and domestic violence survivors. Join us on Facebook.

For more by Rob Schware, click here.

For more on yoga, click here.

Project Surya Fundraiser for STEPS!

I’m always at my happiest when I’m either A) in a backbend or B) organizing meaningful projects . . . and I’m very grateful it’s about that time of year!

The 2013 Project Surya outreach will be held on June 1st – 108 Sun Salutations in Prospect Park for STEPS to End Family Violence.   Check out the press release below (park permit pending!):


Yoga Gathering and Fundraiser to End Family Violence

On Saturday, June 1st, yoga practitioners and do-gooders across New York City will gather at the 15th Street entrance to Prospect Park for 108 for Peace, an event to raise awareness around ending family violence.  They’ll be dedicating 108 Sun Salutations in the name of peace, as well as fundraising for the New York nonprofit, STEPS to End Family Violence.  The event promises prizes for the most enthusiastic fundraisers, music, refreshments, and a stunning view of the lake in Prospect Park, the only freshwater lake in Brooklyn.


When STEPS’ founder, Sister Mary Nerney, began providing counseling to incarcerated women in 1986, she realized a grim truth: the vast majority of incarcerated women had been victims of some kind of violence in their past.  What started out as providing domestic and sexual violence services and education to incarcerated women, has now grown into a citywide phenomenon, addressing each stage in the cycle of violence, including services to children and teenagers.  STEPS now provides services in every borough and reaches over 5,000 New Yorkers each year.

STEPS provides culturally competent, multi-lingual, free services, offered through four areas: Criminal Justice Services for Women, Counseling and Advocacy (provides individual and group counseling for survivors and their children as well as financial counseling and connection to a range of social service providers), Civil Legal Services, and Teen Services.  (visit STEPS’ website for more details on services)

About Project Surya

The engine behind the gathering is Project Surya, an unregistered nonprofit founded by Hawaiian karma yogi and writer, Joanne OS Kelly.  Project Surya’s mission is to “Shed light on global issues.”  The organization is responsible for Kashi Ganga Cleanup, a gathering of 500 Varanasi citizens to clean the river Ganga and pledge to make their city a World Heritage City in the next 10 years.  Project Surya’s founder was also given an award from the Yoga Journal for efforts to bring yoga to under-served communities, including TMM Family Services in Tucson, Brookview Preschool in Tallaught, Ireland, and members of the Umonho Tribe in Nebraska. (visit Project Surya’s website for more)

About Sun Salutations

Sun Salutations is a series of movements used in many yoga classes to warm the body.  Traditionally, it is a sequence devoted to Surya, the sun god.  There are at least 23 documented variations of Sun Salutations in India, and as yoga has grown in international popularity, variations have increased exponentially.  The Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit, the mother language of Indo-European languages) will be performed as an offering to peace at the event.  Participants are encouraged to dedicate as many salutations as they feel comfortable doing.

About the Event

Participants will meet at the 15th Street entrance to Prospect Park at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 1st.  They will be led to a grassy field on the shore of the north side of the lake.  Each participant will set up their own mats or blankets, and though some refreshments will be served afterward, participants should bring their own water, sunscreen, hats and towels.  People may participate in any of four ways:

  1. Perform 108 (or fewer) Sun Salutations in the name of ending family violence.
  2. Come to the event to offer support.
  3. Fundraise by asking coworkers, friends, and acquaintances to donate some amount of money for every Sun Salutation they perform – fundraising sheets are availableon the Project Surya website.  The most enthusiastic fundraisers will receive prizes like acupuncture sessions and yoga class cards.
  4. Donate directly at the event or online (link).

A short dedication will kick off the event, and the Sun Salutation portion will take approximately 90 minutes, depending on the practitioner.  Light refreshments and music will be offered, and winners of the fundraising competition will also be announced.  Winners will receive healing prizes from Third Root Community Health Center.

Contacts and Useful Links

Contact Joanne Kelly: Jo@ThirdRoot.org  |  808.343.1850

Winning a Scholarship to Omega!

Friday I was graced with the greatest news of the season . . .

I’m going to Omega’s Yoga Service Conference: Bringing Mindful Yoga to Underserved Communities!   In addition, I’ll be appointed to the Yoga Service Council as an official member.


Check out all the goodness, training me to better serve my community . . .

Omega Institute and the Yoga Service Council are pleased to present the second annual Yoga Service Conference. The Yoga Service Council was formed at Omega in 2009 by a group of organizations bringing yoga to underserved populations. As membership of the council has grown, so has their desire to inspire more people to serve and empower their communities through yoga and mindfulness.

We’re honored to offer this unique and intimate opportunity to forge relationships, build skills, and draw inspiration from leading teachers who work with tens of thousands of people in underserved communities every day, including trauma survivors, incarcerated adults and teens, at-risk children, cancer survivors, the elderly, and domestic violence survivors.

With their expert guidance, we explore the benefits and challenges of introducing yoga and mindfulness practices to the underserved and gain tools to work with specific populations. We also address issues of diversity and cultural awareness, talk about getting yoga service projects started and funded, and learn how to conduct research on our work.

Anyone interested in working to create strong, engaged, and resilient communities is welcome. You do not need to be a yoga teacher, or even a yoga practitioner to benefit from this conference. Social workers, school teachers, health-care providers, yoga teachers, and all others interested in exploring the possibility of bringing yoga and mindfulness to underserved populations are invited to attend.


FRIDAY, JUNE 7, 2013

6:00 p.m.–7:15 p.m.

8:00 p.m.–8:30 p.m.

Jennifer Cohen Harper

8:30 p.m.–10:00 p.m.
Opening Keynote

Beryl Bender Birch


7:00 a.m.–8:00 a.m.
Yoga Practice in Lake Theater
Roxanne “Nikki” Myers

7:00 a.m.–8:45 a.m.

9:00 a.m.–10:30 a.m.
Strengthening Compassion

Kelly McGonigal

Teachers, caregivers, volunteers, health-care providers, and others in the helping professions know that compassion is their greatest strength, but they can also feel overwhelmed by compassion fatigue. No matter how much compassion we feel for others, the practice of self-compassion is often a struggle. Learn the latest science of what strong and sustainable compassion is (and is not), how to avoid burnout, and how to cultivate self-compassion. These ideas and tools can support you in your own work serving others and become skills you can share with those dealing with health issues, trauma, anxiety, depression, addiction, and other life challenges.

10:45 a.m.–12:45 p.m.

These workshops are unique introductions to the yoga and mindfulness practices that best support specific populations. Taught by some of the country’s leading instructors, you gain practical tools for teaching, as well as a deeper understanding of the challenges these communities are facing. Please choose one workshop.

The Issues Live in the Tissues: Addiction Recovery, Trauma Healing & Yoga
Roxanne “Nikki” Myers

As many as one in three Americans suffer from some type of addiction disorder. A multifaceted disease with many forms—including alcohol, illegal and prescription drugs, eating disorders, compulsive spending, gambling, exercise, sex, love, porn, and more—addiction causes social, psychological, and physical harm. It affects people of all ages, backgrounds, and socioeconomic statuses, and it is very much present in the yoga community. An equal opportunity destroyer, addiction affects not only the addict, but it also causes damage to families, friends, and society as a whole. This presentation, which includes an experiential practice, explores the truth behind addiction. It presents a rich, powerful framework for inquiry and explores daily practices to enhance physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

Working With High-Risk Youth
Ali Smith
Atman Smith, and Andres Gonzalez

The Holistic Life Foundation (HLF) has been teaching yoga to high-risk youth for more than a decade, focusing their efforts in the many underserved communities in the city of Baltimore. The cofounders, brothers Ali Smith and Atman Smith and their college friend Andres Gonzalez, have developed their own unique blend of various yoga styles to best serve the youth population. In this workshop, we explore making yoga accessible and practical for high-risk youth, and we cover practices, teaching philosophies, youth engagement, and many other topics.

Building a Sustainable Wellness Toolkit
Claire Campbell

To give oneself in service to others can be risky business. While many of us are driven by our life’s purpose to remain open to the suffering of others, this stance can simultaneously leave us depleted and at risk. Unidentified stress, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma can, and often does, impact our entire system, including our struggle to live life in the present moment. This experiential workshop helps participants identify varied tools that support a sustained path to personal wellness through the use of expressive therapies, yoga, breathwork, and sensory integration. This workshop supports the “helper” to create an object of mindfulness that can be used to support future, ongoing self-care, and create new pathways for embodying a sustained change.

Sequencing Theory for Yoga Service
Jasmine Chehrazi

Discover how employing sound sequencing techniques in outreach/service settings can inspire students to come back to your class and connect even more deeply with yoga beyond class time. This hands-on workshop explores general sequencing theory and theme concepts according to a variety of perspectives and traditions, including yoga therapy and trauma-sensitive yoga. This workshop features interactive, hands-on sequencing exercises that leave you feeling prepared and experienced to share yoga more effectively with a variety of communities.

So You Want to Do Research
Kelly McGonigal

In this session, take a hands-on, do-it-yourself approach to research. Learn how to put together a plan to launch your own research project—one that can be done with resources you already have. Brainstorm and strategize on what kind of data you are after, how to collect it, and what you can do with it once you have it.

12:45 p.m.–1:45 p.m.
Lunch Table Discussions

Join organization leaders at lunchtime for lively conversations around topics relevant to the yoga service community.


2:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m.
Meditation Talk & Practice: Lovingkindness
Sharon Salzberg
Lovingkindness is a meditation that cultivates our natural capacity for an open and loving heart. It is traditionally offered with meditations that enrich compassion and joy in the happiness of others, and also deepen our own sense of peace. These practices lead to the development of concentration, connection, fearlessness, and genuine happiness. Sharon Salzberg introduces these teachings and supports us in our own experience and cultivation of these qualities through direct instruction and guided meditation using classical techniques in a modern idiom. There will also be opportunities for questions. This workshop is suitable for both new and experienced meditators.
3:30 p.m.–5:00 p.m.
Please choose one workshop.
Yoga for Cancer Survivors
Tari Prinster

Research increasingly acknowledges yoga as beneficial to cancer patients. Western medical institutions now encourage yoga as part of a wellness/alternative healing programs. Rarely is there explanation of how yoga works, why the benefits are unique, and what kind of yoga is best. In this workshop, we explore the science behind yoga; concerns of cancer survivors; cautions for teaching yoga to the special needs of cancer survivors; and, most importantly, yoga poses that facilitate recovery and prevention, as well as yoga poses to avoid. We also learn compassion balanced with knowledge and a proven methodology that inspires hope and gives emotional support through safe, healing yoga.
Mindfulness-Based Elder Care (MBEC)
Lucia McBee

Western medicine has extended the quantity of our life expectancy, but physical and cognitive frailty, chronic pain, and stress continue to diminish quality of life for many elders. Professional and family caregivers working with frail elders may also struggle with feelings of helplessness and discomfort in the presence of illness and despair. Mindfulness-Based Elder Care (MBEC) is a program that has modified the skills of yoga and mindfulness-based interventions for elders with physical and cognitive disabilities, and their caregivers. Underneath the skills, the path of MBEC and mindful yoga embraces rather than confronts the challenges of chronic illness, pain, and loss. In this workshop, we explore the practices that are adapted at the intersection of our knowledge about elders and the essence of yoga and mindfulness, and how they can be used to assist in elder care.
Sustainable Yoga Service
Rob Schware
Bidyut “B.K.” Bose, and Meghann Beer
This workshop is intended for individuals and groups interested in starting, sustaining, or scaling yoga service efforts on a stable foundation. From individual and small group efforts all the way to nonprofits serving thousands of people every week, we discuss the ways in which each of us can serve most effectively through yoga, even as we survive and thrive. Bidyut “B.K.” Bose, founder and director of the Niroga Institute, addresses programmatic scaling issues in education, health care, and violence prevention, including direct service provision, training, research, policy, and advocacy. Meghann Beer, a professional nonprofit consultant who has worked with the Africa Yoga Project to create and run the Seva Safari program, explores the nitty-gritty issues of starting a service organization and growing it from a start-up to a formalized structure. Rob Schware, founder and executive director of the Give Back Yoga Foundation, discusses approaches to fundraising and the importance of product development and leveraging the Internet to distribute products for awareness raising and revenue generation. Come find out how to make your organization less vulnerable.
Foundations of Yoga Service: Practice
Jill Satterfield

Serving others is an act of compassion, and compassion includes oneself, as well as others, because ultimately there is no separation between the two. Keeping our inner perspective wide and tender enough to help ourselves so we might better help others is what practice is about. By taking kind and compassionate care of ourselves, we meet others where they are by directly experiencing interdependence. How might we self-prescribe a practice that is both for our present moment, and rewarding and personal? In this workshop, we explore how to take our own pulse, know what we need, and design a practice that is interesting, fresh, and provides self-care. Creating a daily practice of meditation, breathing, and yoga postures helps us to maintain space in heart and mind, keeps us in the present, deepens our understanding of ourselves, nurtures our basic sanity, heightens our ability to be kind, and facilitates the mental and physical stamina to be doing our work in the world.
An Introduction to Yoga-Based Mindfulness Programs for Women Trauma Survivors
Sue Jones

Recent studies show that early childhood trauma and adverse childhood environments are at the root of avoidance dysfunction and the adoption of health-risk behaviors such as addiction, eating disorders, obesity, self-cutting, dissociation, and propensity toward suicide. Sue Jones, founder of yogaHOPE, leads us in an exploration of integrated mindfulness treatments for women trauma survivors that are gender responsive and trauma informed. We gain a basic understanding of the neurology behind early traumas and health risk behaviors, and discover what elements define a gender responsive program. We also learn what it means to be trauma informed, and how integrated mindfulness practices work to help trauma survivors develop healthy coping mechanisms when experiencing a stressor.


6:00 p.m.–7:15 p.m.

7:30 p.m.–9:30 p.m.
Yoga Service Poster Sessions

Join us for an opportunity to learn from and network with conference participants and faculty. Yoga service organizations and community members will be present with materials to share, and representatives will be available to answer questions and offer support.

SUNDAY, JUNE 9, 2013

7:00 a.m.–8:45 a.m.

8:30 a.m.–10:30 a.m.
Yoga, Neurobiology & Trauma

Bessel van der Kolk

The body is one of the arenas in which the memory of trauma is re-enacted. Traditional Western psychotherapy has approached the resolution of trauma as something that needs to be understood, worked through, and put into the larger perspective of one’s life. In the wake of the emerging knowledge of the neurobiology of trauma, this workshop presents the theoretical underpinnings of how pranayama, asanas, and meditation can change core neurobiological, trauma-related deficits.

10:30 a.m.–11:30 a.m.
Panel Discussion: Diversity & Cultural Awareness
Bidyut “B.K.” Bose
Participate in a lively discussion around issues of diversity within the yoga service community and the relevance of cultural awareness and sensitivity.

11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
Closing: Community Connections
Yoga Service Council Board
12:30 p.m.–1:45 p.m.
Lunch & Departure

Double Happiness

Today’s blog is another double whammy of gratitude.

Yesterday’s source of inspiration: the people in my Yoga in Action crew.  We were all a part of a several-week workshop I blogged about last year, and this was our first “reunion” of sorts.  Scrumptious food, good conversation, giggles, meditation and sharing of meaningful personal/community projects.  Now *that* is the kind of thing that makes me feel at home here in Brooklyn.  And just in time, too – right as winter’s chilly whisper seemed ready to permeate my bones.

Yup, life feels a lot warmer.

And today?  Today I have to give props to this amazing video I saw last year, illustrating to a tee yoga’s healing powers.  The two main characters are rather unlikely heroes in the world of yoga.  But it’s a story that will mos definitely open your heart (and it just may cause a few tears.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you!):


JoJournal: Servin’ It Up Proper

If you’ve been following my blog, you know how I feel about Varanasi.

This is my third visit to India’s jewel on the Ganga, specifically to learn yoga at Om Shanti Yoga Niketan.  Before landing, I had it in my mind to offer a  seva (service) to the community here.  Seva is an important aspect in dharmic religions where service to another is an indirect service to the Divine. It’s a proven fact, giving feels good, not just to the recipient but to the giver as well!    And sometimes,  if you add all the right ingredients, it can provide a community with something they desperately needed, or with knowledge that will change their lives forever.

With the help of Rajuji, my teacher, I’ve had the honor of meeting some very special individuals around Varanasi.

Ganga arti (ceremony at the river!)

Though my asana practice has taken a back burner to my karma yoga mission, and my nostrils are full of black soot from jetting about town on rickshaws all day, though my phone ear is ringing and my smile-muscles are kaputz, I can go to bed feeling like a million bucks today.

Samaj Seva: Kashi Ganga Cleanup

On November 20th, at 9am, tourists, citizens and local organization members will gather together at Dasaswamedh Ghat to clean Ma Ganga and the surrounding streets and alleyways.  In addition to cleaning the city, our group will be passing around a petition for the government to better regulate the import of already-banned plastic bags in the city.  By raising awareness about the littering problem here, and placing bins along the walkways and ghats, we hope to inspire long-term sustainable change in one of India’s most treasured cities.

<Read the official press release here.>

It Takes a Village

I’m overwhelmed by the encouragement, media support, and cooperation by local luminaries. After several meetings, it was decided the best hook was to position the seva event around foreign concern – that’s why I feature so prominently in the press release.  Whatever gets the right people’s attention!

So far, the International Shiv Shakti Yoga Association has agreed to teach a yoga class to our volunteers.  The Gandiva Hindi Daily, Varanasi’s leading evening newspaper, is assisting us with flier printouts to promote the day amongst tourists.  Jago Banaras & Sunbeam Schools Varanasi have generously offered 100 cadets, brooms and dustbins.  The Sahara Network is already advertising the day on their television program, and an impromptu visit from The Lions Club in another meeting resulted in their support as well.

And as a sweet ‘lil cherry on top, Soul Creation Productions is planning a documentary on the effort, in the context of India’s role in the global green movement.


On top of all this, I’m now writing and narrating a script with the production company, teaching students at a Sunbeam school about the environmental and health concerns surrounding litter, as well as donating my time as a writing workshop leader.  Creativity, service, passion and determination collide!

I was in good company all day, and finished the evening with a short but sweet asana class.  Exactly what I needed after all the tea and chat!

Wish us luck at the press conference tomorrow . . . can’t say I’ve ever done one of those before (at least not on the other side of the camera)!

Japan Fundraiser: Giving feels goooooood!

For the last week or so I’ve been working on a fundraiser for the victims of the Japan earthquakes and tsunami.  Building the Project Surya website, spreading the word on Facebook, creating sponsorship sheets and writing emails, it’s been more than just a fun project – performing selfless service like this has put the biggest smile on my face all week!

I didn’t notice it until a friend from work told me one day, “You have just been beaming in the mornings!”

And it’s true.

I wake up with more energy and jois de vivre!  The days go by faster!  I can’t wait to get back onto my computer and continue with the project checklist! 

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Though I’ve always done volunteer and charity work, this is the first time I’m not just participating or acting as VP of Communications.  This time it’s my baby, and it feels incredible.

Here are the details:

On Friday May 6th, at 6:00 am, a group of teachers here in the Western Region will perform 108 Sun Salutations in a dedication ceremony to those victims of the earthquakes and tsunami in Japan.

We’re fundraising by using a ChipIn page (you’ll need PayPal).  Check it out here to donate!  If you’d rather send me a check or transfer money to my Bank of America or Chase accounts, both of those are options as well!

Most of my Japanese family are actually from Fukushima, where they’re watching the nuclear power plant developments with baited breath.  With 160,000 homeless and whole towns to rebuilt, Japan can use all the help it can get.

According to The Economist, the international response has been shockingly slow, and on top of that, beauracracy is holding up a lot of funds fromsupportive countries.

All this in Japan, a nation consistently ranked in the top 5 for their quick and generous offerings of international aid (The New York Times)!

To ensure our donations go to the right place – quickly! – I chose a 4-star charity, ranked by Charity Navigator, one that has been rated 100% efficient by Forbes for eight years in a row – DIRECT RELIEF INTERNATIONAL.  They work with non-profits on the ground in Japan and ensure contributions are placed in the most effective and appropriate hands.

So far, the response from my network has been really surprising!  An old college friend was the first to reply and donate, one who I’d not been in contact with at all!  My former boss was generous enough to make a contribution as well.

Thanks to everyone out there, for your well-wishes and financial support.  Together, our healing intentions will manifest – on Japanese ground, in the lives of thousands.

Feels good, doesn’t it?